Capturing state power through 'mercenaries' | Page 2 | Daily News


Capturing state power through 'mercenaries'

The word politics signifies the struggle for power taking place between individuals or groups of individuals to capture state power. In other words, it means capturing the control of the government. Even though the theoretical definition of the word politics alludes to capturing state power, in actuality, it means capturing the control of the government. Politics, whether it is national or international, has three major objectives. First is the capturing of state power. Second is maintaining the power thus captured and the third is the constant attempt to further expand that power. So, it becomes evident that politics and capturing state power are intertwined and connected to each other in such a degree that they cannot be separated.

It is accepted that there are two ways of engaging in the game of politics. The first method is to do it democratically and the second method is to use revolutionary means. The main method of engaging in democratic politics is through elections while armed struggles along with the use of bullets become the major tools or means of engaging in politics conducted through a revolution. While democratic politics is carried out with the participation of the civil society a revolutionary political process is carried out through the participation of armed revolutionaries or mercenaries. The ballot becomes the main element of democratic politics while the bullet becomes the main element of revolutionary politics. Where openness is one of the main qualities of democratic politics, secretiveness becomes important for revolutionary politics. Democratic politics is carried out with the mass participation of the people while revolutionary politics will be carried out with the limited participation of individuals. Other than these two methods, the other means of capturing state power is by way of a military coup which will be carried out under the auspice of military personnel.

Attempt to capture State power

Hence, the nature of political science is as such and I penned down this as a way of introduction due to the warped political means used by the Joint Opposition to topple the current government and capture state power as “Operation Colombo” was ideologically as well as pragmatically fraught. The major problem associated with this Janabalaya Colambata is that it is hard to understand whether this was conducted on democratic lines or revolutionary lines. The main objective of the “Colombo Protest” was to use anti-government protesters to “Occupy Colombo.” The leaders of the Joint Opposition in an immature way believed that this “force” will exert pressure on the ruling government and thereby topple allowing them to capture state power. In other words, the Joint Opposition wanted to overthrow the “good governance government” and establish a government under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa. When looked at in this light, the operation carried out by the Joint Opposition to capture state power stands in contrast to the democratic means and falls more in line with so-called “revolutionary” means of gaining power.

Lack of political knowledge

But when we critically look at how “Operation Colombo” was carried out, it becomes clear that it was a “revolution” carried out on a very shallow and nominal basis as the main elements of a “proper” revolution were absent. In short, Operation Colombo failed to show any characteristics of a fully-fledged political revolution at ideological, theoretical and pragmatic levels. Moreover, if any person believes that state power in a country where over 20 million people live will change hands due to twenty to thirty thousand people shouting anti-government slogans along with the hackneyed line stating that “we need a government headed by his Highness Mahinda Rajapaksa”, it is apt to state that such individuals have no idea about politics or associated power struggles.

So, due to all these factors, Operation Colombo showed that the leaders of the Joint Opposition lack any form of political literacy when it comes to engaging in political games to capture state power. Operation Colombo was mainly done by using the power of rhetoric and nothing else. Even though rhetoric plays a role in the game for power, the stalwarts of the Joint Opposition were unable to comprehend that bombastic rhetoric alone will not suffice to overthrow a government and capture power. Therefore, this whole operation became utterly meaningless and devoid of any practical value other than one which made boisterously loud empty noises.

But the most important highlight of this whole operation was the attempt to use mercenaries and overthrow a democratically elected government out of power as around 95% of the “soldiers” who participated in this façade were mercenaries. They were lured into this event with the promise of free transport, alcohol, a food packet and a bit of money. Many of those who participated had no idea about Operation Colombo and why it was even organised. So, these mercenaries were like coconut husks ebbing about in the vast ocean which stands in stark contrast to revolutionaries with strong political objectives in mind. This whole failed political façade eventually showed that the stalwarts of the Joint Opposition are extremely politically immature. They failed to understand that a difficult task like changing a government and capturing state power cannot be done with the help of mere mercenaries. Again and again, it constantly exposed how the leaders of the Joint Opposition lack any form of political literacy and how backward they are in their political thinking. Machiavelli, a much renowned Italian political philosopher in his revered book The Prince elucidated the uselessness of attempting to capture state power with the help of mercenaries (as was the case with the Joint Opposition) and his ideas can be aptly used when analyzing this particular failed protest.

Machiavelli’s analysis

Machiavelli analyzes as to how a Prince should create a strong military power and base. The Prince can either build up this power by creating a national army consisting of civilians living within that space or by using mercenaries. But building power with the help of mercenaries can be dangerous and a Prince will not get the required strong foundation and stability to rule over the state as mercenaries become heroes only when there are no enemies. When there are enemies, at any given point of time, without any shame, they will conspire and betray the Prince for their personal benefits as they fight because of money/benefits they receive as opposed to personal glory. Therefore, once the mercenaries receive a higher payment they will without a second thought betray anyone. Therefore, mercenaries will only fight when there is no war and if a war does arise within the state, they will definitely leave the Prince and go. So, a Prince must take action to create a national army which will fight for the nation, state, religion, honour and glory. Such an army will fight to protect the Prince till the last moment without abandoning or betraying him.

Machiavelli’s description and analysis of the behavioural patterns relating to mercenaries are quite similar to the behaviour of the mercenaries brought to Colombo by the Joint Opposition.

Those mercenaries were ready to sacrifice their lives in order to overturn the current government but that was only in their drunken stupor. Once the drunken stupor left them, they forgot the main purpose of the operation, which was to overthrow the government and establish Mahinda Rajapaksha back on the “throne”, and went back home. Thus, when it was nearing midnight, they betrayed the much awaited “revolution of capturing Colombo” and went back without even informing their leaders. When we look at the chain of events, it shows how politically illiterate, backward thinking and immature the leaders of the Joint Opposition are. Other than being bombastic, they had no real pragmatic modus operandi. As the Colombo Operation cannot be either categorized as a democratic means of changing a government or a revolutionary means of doing so, this whole operation amounts to being a hollow and shallow one. Eventually, it became another farcical nonsensical rhetorical façade carried out by wasting millions of rupees. It turned the whole of Colombo into a public lavatory and further strengthened the Wickremesinghe-Sirisena government.

(The writer is former Professor of Political Science, University of Peradeniya.)


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